The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

My Distant "Niece," "semimortal79"'s End of Year Photograph: "Our Dark Secrets"


our dark secrets, originally uploaded by semimortal79.


For the original post of "semimortal79"'s "Our Dark Secrets," see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/79073990@N00/2149988995/

"Our Dark Secrets"

Oh! Wicked "semimortal79,"
Revealing your dark secrets,
Darker than those ever told,
By the Delphic oracle of old.
Tell not what next year will hold,
Never dare to be so bold.
But, into that darkness whisper,
What recently you learned,
That scattered by time and space,
This media a yet darker secret
Revealed! That you--
Goddess of the night sky,
Fair maid of Athens,
Bright flower of Paris--
Yet darker ties of blood
Must now confess.
Counting for a cousin,
One so sinister, prowling,
Springing from behind what rock,
Declaring he your distant "uncle" be!
Fair maid of Paris,
As a new year dawns,
Casting its rays
On the Acropolis above
Come salutations from one,
Who is no dove,
But hides behind
A thousand words.

Thank you for the new year greetings!!

In return my wish for you, as for all well-wishers:

May the paths before you be open,
And the wind in your back:

Where_Do_We_Come_From?_What_Are_We?_Where_Are_We_Going?_1897-2007 (with thanks to Gauguin, and in collaboration with "druppelsgewijs / Pascale")

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? 1897-2007 (with thanks to Gauguin, and in collaboration with "druppelsgewijs / Pascale")

Giving us--courtesy of Gauguin, and with collaboration from "druppelsgewijs / Pascale"--once more something to ponder as we enter a new year!

Wishing you the very best for 2008, and please stay in touch!

Please also pass my greetings further up Olympus, to the noble, handsome, and most learned Th.....o

your distant "uncle" John Walford

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ionushi's "Let's End It With Big Laughs!"


Let's end it with big laughs!, originally uploaded by ionushi.

Ionushi has been capturing, on camera, and with exquisite beauty, the mood of Japanese ancient ceremonies for years. He is deeply read in Japanese literature, though not his native tongue, which is Spanish, and his informed, cultural sensitivities percolate his beautiful art.

In a time when world events are so precarious, when I saw this image, and its caption, "Let's End It With Big Laughs!", and being today, December 30th, 2007, I thought after posting so many recent laments, that I too should "end" my blog for December by sharing Ionushi's "Big Laughs" (originally posted at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ionushi/2147887916/ ) ,so here it is, accompanied by the sparest of lines that an effulgent Brit can contain, in deference to the traditions of Japanese culture:

"Let's End It With Big Laughs!"

Solemn ceremony ceasing;
Young lips creasing;
Energy releasing.

--JW, December 30, 2007, for Ionushi, wishing you the best for 2008.

Ahmad Kavousian's "Jipsy with J...", December 25, 2006, from his Set: "Face of the Voiceless"


Jipsy with J..., originally uploaded by * Ahmad Kavousian *.

"Jipsy with J..." taken on Christmas day, 2006, is just one of a set of (currently) 192 photographs by Ahmad Kavousian, from his set, "Face of the Voiceless." (See, in context: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kavous/333341026/in/set-72057594111114275/ ). This Iranian-born, architect and photographer presents to us--with candor, and through a mastery of light and texture--the faces, and feelings of the street people of Vancouver. Please visit the entire set, ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/kavous/sets/72057594111114275/ ), which can be viewed as a slide-show. His images will surely move any feeling, human being.

As I ready myself to climb into my comfortable bed, I think of these men and women, to whom he introduces us, and I feel utterly hopeless in face of their plight.

But I also know that Ahmad's heart--perhaps spurred by his own geographic displacement--has found a means to open our hearts by way of his camera lens. In so doing, one more layer of callousness is peeled away, and out of hard sights, a measure of good will is stirred.

I have been studying these images of Ahmad Kavousian for now over a year, and I dedicate this little poem to this man of great humanity, and deep compassion, and to the Voiceless Ones to whom he has introduced us:

"Voice of the Voiceless Ones"

Where, how, when
Did each life take a turn
That led to the streets
As permanent home?

Each once a baby,
Held in arms,
Fed from a bottle,
Or from a warm breast.

When did that warmth
First turn cold?
When did the child,
First grow old?

Where was the mother,
The father, the brother,
When each came to that
Bleak cross-roads?

Why this one, not that,
Could the teacher have known,
That boy in the back row,
Would move out of the zone?

How can it be,
That one makes it good,
While one beside,
Lives in the hood?

What snaps in the mind?
What bends in the will?
What hostile forces,
Turn one so ill?

So what do we do,
With what we have seen?
Ahmad had the heart,
Going where I've not been!

I throw up my arms,
In utter dismay.
I'm helpless I know,
To face that way.

God grant those
Who are strong,
To redeem our wrong.
Please find some way!

Oh please! -- Find some way!

--John Walford, December 29, 2007.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Supplication: Christmas/New Year, 2007

Guns, bombs, assassination (Bhutto), war, violence, famine, cruelty, sorrow, suffering, and death...

God have mercy on us all---we are all so selfish, greedy, ambitious, cruel, and, worse yet, indifferent to the well-being of others. Teach us all a better way....and grant us the will and grace to follow it. Let not the darkness, let not all that is evil, have the last word. May thy light shine into our darkness.

I recall John, my esteemed namesake, a visionary prophet, now long ago, gazing at the heavens from the Isle of Patmos! He, John of old, described--as depicted in one of Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalyptic woodcuts, of about 1498--how he saw, in a vision, four horsemen, riding into battle, one called "War" one "Death" one "Plague" and one "Famine" --well, they do not appear to have run out of steam, alas--none of them, not in all these centuries. Again, God have mercy on this wretched, war-torn planet.

The Writing on the Water.


The Writing on the Water., originally uploaded by algo.

My Flickr "friend" , algo / Alex, living in The Chiltern hills, England, consistently, and deliberately takes photographs that provide deep "Eye de-light"--see his definition for this, on his profile page, and why he is not afraid to please the eye, though others have accused him of producing mere "eye-candy"--an accusation that I reject.

I delight in algo's work, because he gives "Voice to Creation's Praise," to borrow a phrase from my Cambridge, scholar friend, and author, Jeremy S. Begbie. So, algo's "Eye de-light" is my delight, and, without nostalgia--well, perhaps a little for me, as an expatriate (!)--he photographs a much-loved, English landscape--even if he mostly omits any hint of the ugly, encroaching suburban sprawl from his idyllic landscapes.

For algo's "The Writing on the Water," (see his original post at: http://flickr.com/photos/algo/2132862295/) as here seen, I dedicate this simple little poem:

The Writing on the Water:

Man's path--seen through man's eye--
Meandering, and indirect may seem.
Man's path--viewed from above--I spy,
Runs straight as the flight of a plane,
From take off to landing.
We all know where we took off,
But as for the touch down,
Are we as clear,
As to where
We are headed?

--John Walford, December 28, 2007.

Wishing you, amid the violent tenor of world affairs, grace, peace, and my best wishes for 2008. (Note: This was the 114th comment on algo's photograph, thus I was the 114th to take "Eye de-light" therein!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day, and a Dust of Snow


www.ilovesnow.com, originally uploaded by Idea-man.

This winter landscape was made on Christmas day, in Croatia, by Idea Man. The original is posted to Flickr, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53959560@N00/2136057820/.

In response, I wrote this for him:
Christmas Day, and a Dust of Snow:

Snow lies,
Like an ice-blue carpet,
Across your lake.
Where water still holds
Autumn warmth,
The snow, it burns off,
Leaving open patches,
As in the ether, above the poles,
Reminding all of
Global warming.
Stay warm, Idea Man,
Stay warm, stay warm,
Till Spring push through
Once more,
The crocuses,
And daffodils,
Laughing now at Winter chill,
Readying their strength,
To push up through the soil,
And gladden our hearts,
When the winds of Spring,
Sweep through
Your icy plains.

--John Walford, Christmas day, 2007.
(This will be the only poem I will write today, and is dedicated to "Idea Man" for so enriching my life with fun, laughter, wicked humor, and some, uncommon sense.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

An Incredible Christmas Eve "Reunion" -involving France, England, Croatia, Greece, and the USA



Leonidas Pandely Argenti of Chios (1743-1822) -As a leading citizen of the Greek Island of Chios, hung by the Turks, with 22 other leading citizens, as a public example, in 1822.

Christmas Eve, 2007: A day full of surprises, in which, through multiple, parallel communications, with totally disparate individuals, linked to diverse parts of my existence, I discovered that each was somehow more closely connected to the other than I ever could have anticipated. Thus, I found myself, a British expatriate, married to an Italian, together now living the last 26 years in the USA, emailing a few friends--one in Croatia, one in France, one in England, and two in Greece.

The "friends" in Greece are not actually friends, but we share a passion for both art and language, which has resulted in written exchanges, commenting on one another's photographs--each one operating under a pseudonym. The "friend" in Croatia is not actually a friend either, but a young philosopher by trade, and a creative photographer, by passion. We had earlier discovered that we shared a passion for art, ideas, philosophy, religion, humor, satire, and language, which has resulted in many, many deep and intense written exchanges, commenting on one another's photographs, and views of life. Now it happens that, some time ago, the Croatian "friend" put me in touch with the younger of the two "friends" in Greece--for comparable reasons. So the younger of the two "friends" in Greece, and I started a few email exchanges, via the Flickr photo-sharing site, that we all use.

Then came the day before Christmas eve, and no Christmas letter written. So I opted for the electronic solution. At about 2.00am, thus by now Christmas Eve, I sent off a note to many of my family and friends--real ones, and a few new, Internet ones--for good measure!!! I had to get up at 5.00am, to run an important errand, and by 6.00am. I had already heard back from my friend in France. Actually, we are not strictly "friends", as we only know each other through correspondence. But we are bona fide, blood relations--though only distant cousins. But, for us, that is good enough, since we both derive from a close-knit, widely dispersed, but deeply interrelated group of Greek families--all survivors of the 1822 Turkish massacre of the Greek islanders of Chios, close to the Turkish coast, where our common ancestors lived as sea-faring merchants, for centuries upon centuries, until that appalling, and cruel disaster.

Now, my cousin in France is a writer and a journalist, and he knows almost everything there is to know about the Chiot diaspora. Since I had just heard from one of my two Greek photo contacts, now living in Athens, that her family also came from Chios, I asked my cousin in France if he knew anything about her family. He writes back, four minutes later, to say that he was on the point of writing to her father, a somewhat distinguished Athenian intellectual, to wish him a Merry Christmas, when my email arrived. Now, turns out that her father--unbeknown to me, since also using a pseudonym--was my other Greek, photo-contact "friend", who is not really a friend at all!

Then came the surprise: My cousin in France was writing to him, in Athens, because they really are good friends! But not only that, my French cousin told me that the man in Athens, and thus his daughter too, are actually my blood relations, and that, due to constant inter-marriage among these Greek, Chiot families, we are not only cousins, but cousins three times over, through different lines!!


Now recall that I first mentioned London as another point in this nexus of connections. So, it now unfolds that not only do my two Athenian photo-contacts turn out to be father and daughter, and both my cousins, but, furthermore, that my beloved Greek aunt in London, who had recently died, was a close friend of the Athenian man's mother, and that my London aunt's daughter, thus my cousin, also living in London, and of whom I am most fond, has stayed with them in Greece.

Not only that, but so did my cousin's daughter, only last summer. In so doing, she, in her turn, became friends with the brother of my other Greek photo-contact, the distinguished Athenian's daughter--whose pseudonym, by which I have known her, is, perhaps fittingly for such a Greek tale, "semimortal"!!!!

I had teased her about this pseudonym, until I found out that she lived not far (relatively speaking) from the foothills of Mount Olympus! Now, it also turns out that the family I stayed with in Greece, relatives of my Greek aunt, in the summer of 1966, were also friends with this same Athenian family.

In short, if you have had the patience to follow me thus far, you will have realized something, namely that it took a young philosopher in Croatia, and a journalist/ writer living in France to act as catalysts to reunite on Christmas Eve three long-lost distant cousins--separated by the vicissitudes or war, murder, pillage, and the resultant dispersion of peoples. So we are already planning a great reunion --perhaps in London, Paris, or Athens itself!---hopefully before too long, and before we all forget who we are!

All this is perhaps a foretaste of heaven, and something, that in its fullness, we can all enjoy through the great blessings brought to mankind through the Christmas Incarnation.

As if this is not enough, something very similar to this happened to me on Christmas eve, 1969, now 38 years ago. On that occasion, also involving the Greek Chiot diaspora, I met on the street of High Street, Kensington, London, my 5th cousin, whose family had lived in Alexandria, Egypt, since the time of the 1822 diaspora. How we met that night in London is also an incredible story, which I will save for another occasion. But I will say that, in absolute truth, the discovery unfolded as the clock on the nearby church struck midnight, so ushering in Christmas day! Our mutual astonishment is something that surely both of us will carry to the grave. Now, 38 years later, a sort of reprise, of a similar kind, has take place.

The sheer beauty of such experiences makes me think that heaven will be filled with an amazing set of reunions for all of us. For that, Christ be given the glory, and thanksgiving for his first stooping to enter our sorrowful, wicked world, born as an outcast, in a manger, behind an inn, only recognized by three shepherds and three wise men.

As I conclude writing this, for today, the minute-hand on the clock creeps towards midnight, and in four minutes precisely, once again it will be Christmas day, when people all over the world celebrate the birth of Christ, now some two thousand years ago, to a woman called Mary, who was without a bed for that night, and had to give birth in a doubtless messy stable.

************************************************************************************
Christmas morning, 2007:

Early, on Christmas morning, my Croatian, philosopher friend--"Idea Man" on Flickr--wrote back, as follows:

"Thanks for remembering your young friend! And, I did know the Glyptis [of Athens] story a few weeks ago, since Alexandra [the daughter] and I have become real close friends (we talk on Skype) and she explained to me the surname omen, hehe. But I thought that you two met at the religious hour at my photo.

Also, I did tell her many good things about you before you were in ''first contact'' so...I take the full blame for making this ever shrinking world even smaller... soon we'll bump our heads any time soon, hehe.

Thank you very much for wishes and all, I too wish you and all your loved ones (present company included, hehe) a merry Christmas filled with it's magical powers and those feeling that we wish could go on for entire year...and why not?! They should!

Send my love to Maria and Ida sends her greetings and kisses too!" ---Robi

***********************************************************************************

Such, indeed, is an example of some of the remarkable, possible outcomes of our Internet era, when used selectively, and creatively. Such experiences have brought me great joy, and fresh intellectual stimulus, as I have discussed ideas with people such as Robi, the "Idea Man" from Croatia. He is by turns funny, profound, clever with words, extraordinarily creative, and exceptionally generous, in the sharing of his breadth of knowledge, his terrific sense of humor, nostalgia for lost childhood, introspection, engagement of the present moment, and its possibilities, and playful teasing of an older academic, such as me!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

With words, with numbers, with souls


Ionushi's (Flickr's ionushi / Aurelio Asiain) beautiful work, "With words, with numbers, with souls" (see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ionushi/2125389214/).

I am inspired by this piece of Ionushi's because it touches a deep instinct common to us all, of whatever creed or culture---the making of offerings and supplications.

He, for his part, writes about it: "This was also taken during the Fudekuyô (筆供養, ふでくよう) ceremony, when brushes of calligraphers and writers, who offered them in gratitude for last year accomplishments and in hopes of better penmanship ability, were reduced to ashes on November 23 at Shogaku-an (正覚庵), a sub-temple of Tofuku-ji Zen complex. See here the still growing slideshow.(En español aquí.)."

This inspired me to write the following in response:

"With words, with numbers, with souls,"....
And most of all with hands,
Wherever found, instincts the same,
To make our plea, or give our thanks,
With raised, outstretched, or offering hands:

Lazarus_at_the_Rich_Man's_Kitchen_Window_I_2007

(Lazarus_at_the_Rich_Man's_Kitchen_Window_I_2007)

We live in many different lands,
And follow many different creeds.
But all we feel to give our thanks,
And hope another year to strive
To do better than our best, this year,
To seize on hope, let go of fear.

Meanwhile, from Wheaton, Illinois,
I send my greetings,
This Christmas time,
Here celebrated, prosaic true,
By three little kids, guess who!



Merry Christmas,  All My Dear Flickr--and Other Watching--Friends!


Ones I love, now that is sure,
They seek the Christ Child to adore.

With my deep appreciation for all the beautiful photographs and thoughts you have shared with us this past year, and my best wishes for Christmas and for 2008,

John Walford, December 22, 2007.

Lazarus at the Rich Man's Kitchen Window 2007

Viewing, on Flickr, "redart" / Marco of Rome's piece "....Hope", (see www.flickr.com/photos/redart_photo/2127203208/ ), I thought that, for Christmas, I would make a piece about those on the margins, who lack the luxuries of the majority of us. This last year I have also been frequently moved by the photographs, also seen on Flickr, of Ahmad Kavousian, of the homeless people he engages on the streets of Vancouver, Canada. His work brings these marginal characters before our eyes with such power and yet sensitivity. Together, redart's "...Hope" and many, many pieces by Ahmad Kavousian--such as his piece, "buying a little hope.....", (see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kavous/2126372984/ ) made me reflect again on the Biblical parable about rich Dives and poor Lazarus.

It seems to me that so many of us in the USA--myself the first and worst offender--are so comfortably ensconced in our affluent lifestyles that we forget--or, worse yet, don't care--about those less fortunate than ourselves. I feel my own shame, and sense the weight of our collective shame, in this regard, most of all as we all spend so much time, money and effort on our family-focused--not even Christ-focused--Christmas.

What do the dispossessed and homeless think of our huge Christmas trees, dripping with ornaments, with piles of gifts--for each other--heaped around the tree trunk, sprawling across our living room floors?

I can only think of two options--perhaps three: disgust--envy--but more likely deep sorrow. We would all do well to turn some of our myopic attention their way, for a change. I know I need to, and am ashamed at my long indifference----far too self-absorbed! Am I alone in this? I don't think so!

Too many of us--myself included--have become too calloused and heartless. I need to make some changes, but I suspect that I am not alone, in that regard.

Clearly, there are some New Year resolutions to make, perhaps they need to be made yet sooner, before Christmas steels up on us!



Meanwhile, I wrote this poem in honor of Ahmad Kavousian's "buying a little hope...":

Ahmad:

Too many lonely people.....
Too much sadness,
You have seen so many
On the streets around you.

You shared them with us,
You showed them to us,
And you remind us again,
That there are always,
Too many lonely people...

Some too rich, most too spoiled,
Your people remind me,
How lucky I am,
How much to thank for!
How much to share.

Today, as Christmas
Approaches, it seems
Too banal,
When others suffer,
To share some joy,
But here are mine,
Re-enacting an old story
Of rejection and goodwill:

to which I attached a photo of my grandchildren, re-enacting the Christmas Nativity, see above.

I also wrote this poem, inspired by "redart / Marco, of Rome's photograph of praying hands, entitled "....Hope":

We join our hands;
We say a prayer,
And hope to live
Another year.

Each one his own pain,
Each his hope does hold.
Each her hands does clasp,
Whether young or old.

This simple gesture,
So much does say!
How strong we be,
We each must pray!

At Christmas time,
Old rituals remind,
Love and rejection,
All humanity bind.

Each our own rituals
Yearly enact,
What grandchildren,
Here make fact:

and accompanied by the same grandchildren's Christmas Nativity photograph.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Which Way At The Crossroads? 2007

Which_Way_At_The_Crossroads?_I_2007

For a larger image, please see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walford/2121376107/

I have been reflecting recently about the directions we choose and take in life, and their consequences, both short and long term.

We all, also, come to critical crossroads at various points in our lives. Divergent paths seem minimal at their point of departure, yet how far they can lead us in unanticipated directions. We can all think of such crossroads in our lives.

The color photograph in the center panel depicts one such crossroads (encountered during recent travels in England). I have combined it with two of my favorite prints by Albrecht Dürer, representing the active and the contemplative life. These two prints, "St. Jerome" (on the left) of 1514,, and "Knight, Death, & Devil," (on the right), of 1513, also exemplify the need for both focus and fortitude in order to stay on task, to hold to our chosen path. Since I often find myself tested in these areas, I made this for my office, as a reminder of where I need to set my sights, and to what I need to hold fast.

It is also my attempt to recast the core concept of Dürer's two prints within a contemporary idiom.

I would, of course, be interested to discover how others respond to this composite, partially-appropriated triptych, mixing old and new, while also marrying my love for actual landscape to that of art history.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You Have To Start Somewhere!

Younger friends and students keep telling me I need a blog. In such matters, I find they are usually correct. I have never regretted--well, perhaps once--launching into some new (to me) Internet sharing modality.

So I will start this one modestly, and see where it takes me. It's name says it all. That is my desire, and what I have striven to do, now over many years. Elitist by birth, anti-elitist by conviction. A foul snob by upbringing and early behavior, I have come to love humanity in all the different types, colors, and convictions in which individuals have presented themselves to me. Indeed, in my encounter with others, I find myself hugely enriched. In return, I hope others take something from me. I am highly opinionated, but listen gladly, debate with openness and delight, and judge none harshly, just as I have not been harshly judged, but listened to, understood, and been mercifully forgiven, so many, many times.

What else is there to say? I am British by birth, a "resident alien" in the USA, of necessity, and an art historian by trade. I am deeply interested in human motivation and behavior, I love what I teach, and whom I teach, even as I take photographs as a means to express myself visually. In this I like to make visible, and love all art forms that render the invisible visible, or the visible freshly understandable. I love the exchange of ideas, especially around art and the big questions of human existence. Furthermore, I am ready to hear from you.

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John Walford

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I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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